I sure as hell don’t, but I know more than a few who do. Defensive end Julius Peppers received a 6-year contract worth potentially $91.5 million in March. He will make $20 million this
season and $40.5 million over the next 3. Peppers came off a 2009 season with the Carolina Panthers in which he registered 42 tackles, 11 sacks, 5 forced fumbles, 2 interceptions, and 5 passes deflected. His signing wasn’t totally expected, but was more than welcome by Bears fans, including myself. However, unlike one blogger who wrote that so far, Peppers has earned every penny, I disagree. Not vehemently, but I definitely feel that Peppers isn’t quite the savior that so many think he has been up to this point.
Some say that Peppers has revitalized the Bears defense, and that’s true, to an extent. The Bears defense in 2009 was horrible by Bears standards. They were 13th in pass defense, 23rd in rush defense, 21st in points allowed per game, and 17th in defense overall. Middle linebacker Brian Urlacher missed the final 63 quarters of the season, the secondary was in shambles, and the defensive line left much to be desired. Add on an incompetent offense that I’m sure was near the top of the league in three-and-outs, and that also led to the Bears defense spending entirely too much time on the field.
The Bears overpaid for Peppers, but they almost had to, coming off yet another disappointing season. With Peppers in a Bears uni through 11 games, the Bears defense has greatly improved. They are 17th in pass defense, 2nd in rush defense, 2nd in points allowed per game, and 4th in defense overall. Their pass defense is in the middle of the pack mainly because of the Cover 2 scheme they play, and not because teams just air it out on them. Despite ranking 13th in sacks and 16th in opponents’ completion percentage, they’re ranked 1st and 2nd in opponents’ passer rating and touchdowns thrown, respectively.
Still, I refuse to give Peppers all or even most of the credit for the Bears defensive resurgence. Currently, Peppers has 34 tackles, 6 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, one interception, 3 tackles for loss, and one blocked kick. Through 9 games though, Peppers had only 2 sacks. Yes, I know, defensive ends (especially now) are expected to do more than sack the quarterback. With tight ends and running backs playing a bigger role in the passing game, defensive ends are now expected to be able to drop into coverage at times to defend the pass. They’re expected to help with run support. Some, like Peppers, play on the special teams unit, especially in situations where a field goal is being attempted. Despite all of the added responsibilities given to today’s defensive ends, Peppers is supposedly still one of the game’s elite. Peppers racked up double-digit sacks in 6 of his first 8 seasons in Carolina despite constant double-teaming, being held, chop blocked and high-lowed. He also wasn’t surrounded by as much talent on the defensive side of the ball as he is now with Chicago. So how did he only have 2 sacks through 9 games? Two of those games coming at home with him lined up across from rookie left tackles in which he was shut out in the sack department? I have no clue, but I know through 9 games, 2 sacks isn’t enough for a guy getting paid $20 mil this year. Panthers fans and others have said he doesn’t have a high motor, and I sort of believe that. It’s arrogant of Bears fans to act as if Panthers fans who’ve always lived in Carolina don’t know what they’re talking about. Some of them not only saw Peppers in a Panthers uni, but also in a UNC and Southern Nash Senior HS uni, which is also in North Carolina.
By the way…where’s the credit for Brian Urlacher? Lance Briggs? Israel Idonije, Anthony Adams, and Henry Melton? DJ Moore? Charles Tillman? What about Rod Marinelli, the highly respected defensive coordinator? Don’t they have anything to do with the Bears defense getting back on track this season?
You can bring up the passes deflected, force fumbles, Peppers inducing holding and false start calls, or the “near sacks”, but real-life sacks matter most when talking about top-notch defensive ends. The Bears gave Peppers that huge contract mainly because of his ability to sack the quarterback. I thought that the Bears would be somewhere near the top 5 in sacks after Peppers signing. The front four’s ability to get the quarterback down (whether by sacking him or simply knocking him down) is what made the Bears D so ferocious in 2006, when they were 8th in the league in sacks and 11th against the pass. The front four’s constant pressure on the QB makes the Cover 2 work. Michael Vick was sacked 4 times, which is great, but Vick has been one of the most sacked QBs during his career, and the Eagles offensive line is not the Redskins of the 80s, or Cowboys of the 90s. It’s porous. Peppers picked up 3 sacks against the Dolphins, which again, was impressive until you consider the team he was up against. The Dolphins offensive line was decimated before the game, notably Jake Long (arguably the best left tackle in the NFL), who just days earlier had been involved in speculation about his availability for the rest of the season. Then the Dolphins center got hurt during the game, and chaos ensued. The Bears registered 6 sacks, but I also forgot to mention that the Dolphins started their 3rd-string QB, Tyler Thigpen, and handed the ball off to their top 2 running backs seven times despite never being more than two scores away from tying the game. Bears fans may cry, saying I’m being “nitpicky” or not giving them their due credit, but the facts are facts. The Bears beat up on an already wounded team.
The Bears are a good, but not great team. “Analysts” aren’t sold on them because they’re being objective, and not biased towards the home team, like most Bears fans are doing when they speak so highly of Peppers contributions. The Bears could’ve very easily started the season 0-4. Calvin Johnson’s inability to “complete the process”, Dallas and Green Bay imploding, along with the debacle against the Giants could’ve made that a reality. A crappy win against the crappy Panthers. Back-to-back home clunkers against the lowly Seahawks and Redskins. Barely beating the Bills, and benefitting from Favre being Favre. Running into Tyler Thigpen and fighting off a furious 4th quarter rally by Vick’s Eagles are how the Bears have gotten to December 3, 2010 with a 8-3 record and injected themselves into the conversation about the NFC’s best. Again, I’m not reaching. I’m just stating facts.
I won’t say that Peppers has been a bust, but I also won’t give him the savior label, either. No, I don’t care about his November Defensive Player of the Month Award. The Bears defense has way too much talent to focus on one guy’s play. That’s the beauty of the Bears D; its depth. Despite their high level of play as a unit, they still don’t invoke images of the ’86 Bears D, or even the ’06 Bears D. There’s still room for improvement. Peppers can play much better than he has, and I hope that Bears fans expect more out of the $20 million man. He doesn’t get paid so that others can benefit from his presence. He gets the big bucks because he’s viewed as one of the best, if not the best, defensive ends in the NFL. When Peppers starts playing on a consistent basis like the healthy version of Jevon Kearse, I’ll give him credit for doing more than drawing a holding call here, and forcing a fumble there. Mr. Peppers, the crow will remain uneaten…for now…
P.S. I miss Karen and the Moondance Woman!!!
P.P.S. Sarah, tell your girlfriend I’m coming for her…